November Review

Ok so there’s still a week to go in November! Have you achieved everything you wanted to? If not! 7 days left! Get going! 

Short and sweet…

I haven’t got too much to say this month, the mornings are dark, the evenings are darker and well it’s been bloody cold! The rain has relented in the last week though so I can’t moan too much….

So, what have I done this month? 

At the start of the month I sowed some more winter lettuce in my polytunnel, ‘pure craziness’ I hear you all cry. Well then call me crazy! I’ve done it! And when I’ve got a year round supply of the crispiest lettuce leaves and you’re eating soggy supermarket dross from the back of your fridge, I’ll show you who’s crazy… 

No-dig manure

I’ve put some real effort into prep for next year, no-dig style. I’ve barrowed loads of mature onto my plot, hoping it will finish off any small weeds over the colder months and saturate my soil with smelly goodness.The plan is to go again with another layer of compost  on top when I get round to ordering some! 

On the topic of compost! I’ve started a proper compost bin for the first time. Now, I do have 4 already but they’ve become more glorified bins for weeds and plants. With this latest venture I’ve actually made an effort to follow the principals of compost making. Layers, browns, greens etc. You’ve heard it all before. I even purchased a compost thermometer, check me out!! Black gold is the aim… we’ll see! 

In other news my dahlia tubers are all up and stored away. I’ve even prepared a new home for them ready for the spring. I’ve planted upward of 200 spring bulbs; I have the back strain and dirty knees to show for it. 

Christmas wreath

Off the plot I’ve started making fresh Christmas wreaths ready to go into some local farm shops, I’ve made a few available online. (shameless plug) 

The good, the bad, the ugly….

Let’s start with the awful news, poor old Ethel left us this month, she declined rapidly over 24 hours. Despite my best efforts including a night in the house, wrapped in blankets she gave in. She was a beauty, had a great life and a peaceful end. 

Not quite so heart-breaking but annoying non the less, is the disastrous Xmas potatoes. They just haven’t grown, plain and simple. Rubbish!! And I’ve got to wait the best part of a year to put this right! I will have Christmas potatoes next year! I swear!!  Seriously though, I tried them in the ground in my polytunnel and despite a few green shoots of hope. Nothing. I need to go back to the drawing board for next year. 

I have enjoyed some fresh produce this month, it’s November and the last of this seasons bounty is providing me with some joy. Carrot and beetroot were both enjoyed, mainly just accompanying a Sunday roast to warm the cockles. 

All the garlic and onions have been planted, green growth showing already. The first frost will have helped the garlic, fingers crossed I’ll have garlic bulbs a-plenty next year. 

Away from the bad news emulating from the brood, the 3 young guns are still firing away maintaining a supply of 3 eggs a day. Will these warriors slow down? Time will tell! Friends and family are certainly reaping the rewards. 

What’s next? 

Allotment committee meeting this Saturday and mulled wine morning the following. I know how to live! 

Sprouts

On the plot, it will mainly be prep for next season. I’ve got big plans! I must prepare the beds with more manure, I have a ton being delivered on Dec 1st and will continue to top up the wood chip paths. 

I have done a much better job with my sprouts and parsnips for xmas dinner. I’ll spend the 24 days leading to christmas dinner checking and double checking on arguably, the most important veg of the year. I’ve promised the family fresh sprouts! I must deliver! I’ll keep you updated. 

In the coming week I’ll post up a video tour on my YouTube channel The Essex Allotment or if you don’t already, follow my daily antics on Instagram. 

Hope you’ve had prosperous month! 

Alex

The Essex Allotment

Real men grow flowers….

Real men grow flowers….

This growing season, I took the decision to supplement my fruit and veg by growing flowers for cutting. In this blog I’ll take you through the experiences of my flower season and throw in the odd serviceable tip along the way, to improve your flower power next year.

Simple flowers for a simple man…

I’m a simple creature, I have very limited knowledge of growing flowers. However as my mother is a ‘world stage’ floral artist and has competed at Chelsea Flower Show, I was hoping to call upon any flower genes I may be lucky enough to possess….

In real terms I didn’t know what I was doing so decided on 3 basic stages of growing..

Stage one: some easy to grow bulbs; Daffodils and Tulips to be exact.

Stage two: the more adventurous seed to vase challenge of growing fragrant Sweet Peas.

And finally stage three: a favourite seen on Instagram pages; Dahlias

Daffodils and Tulips, It really is that easy!

Having decided upon my goals the expedition into the world of flowers began in early October, Daffodils and Tulips proved to be as easy as it comes.

For those true beginners, these are grown from bulbs, you simply dig a hole about 5 inches deep pop in a bulb and replace the soil. Bingo.

It really is that easy, by spring these bulbs had developed long thin green leaves and when the flower gods decided the time was right… an explosion of early colour.

Throughout spring and into early summer they brightened up my home with splashes of yellow daffs, while the tulips provided a mix of bright colours.

Sweet peas; Mother Natures answer to the glade plug in!

Like the successful bulbs, growing my Sweet Peas started long before Magic started playing the same 20 Christmas songs over and over.

I planted my overwinter seeds indoors on a sunny windowsill in October (readers of my debut blog will understand why the polytunnel wasn’t an option).

Individual seeds were pushed into damp soil in a seed tray. Left to germinate, they took about two weeks in the cool temperatures and short days to break the surface of the soil. They soon became long and a little leggy searching for light.

I’d read that ‘pinching them out’ was a top tip to deal with leggy Sweet Peas. So when 2 sets of leaves had formed i cut off the tops. True to ‘Mr Google’s’ word they bushed out, producing one or two new stems from the base of each plant.

After the last frosts had gone I planted the Sweet Peas out.

Sweet Peas are avid climbers and require support to grow. I stuck them at the base of bean frame I had used the season before. The simple bamboo structure was more than enough support for these delicate plants.

Over the coming months I was provided with hundreds (and I mean hundreds!) of the most fragrant flowers! My living room has never smelt so lovely!

My top tip for Sweet Peas is don’t stop cutting the flowers; My Sweet pea season was cut short (pun intended) when I went on holiday for 2 weeks. Unfortunately when you stop cutting, the plant stops producing flowers and turns it’s energy to producing seed pods. Next year I will invite all my fellow Allotment holders to help themselves to the flowers to try and prevent losing them too early again!

Diversity of the Dahlia….

For the Dahlia first timers amongst us, Dahlias grow from tubers in the heart of the great British summer and leave us at the first sign of frost in the autumn.

To get a head start with these temperature sensitive beauties I borrowed my mums conservatory in late spring.

Planting each tuber in an individual pot with peat free compost, I left them to bathe in the warmth keeping the soil moist but not wet.

I planted upwards of 15 deferent varieties, the diversity of the Dahlia is amazing with hundreds (I’m guessing) of different varieties.

They are available everywhere, from pound stretcher to the classiest of garden centres.

When all fear of overnight frost had disappeared from my consciousness I planted the Dahlias into a raised bed on my allotment.

With the all too familiar English summer weather, a combination of joyful heat and the inevitable rain the Dahlias exploded into life! From subtle pink and white to the dark red of the aptly named ‘Arabian night’ the Dahlias quickly became my biggest success of the season.

Like my Sweet Peas they provided ample flowers all summer to brighten up the homes of friends and family as well as my own.

The vastly differing varieties meaning no two vases ever looked the same.

The only thing I will do different next year is ensure I better space and stake the plants when they are young, I did lose a few flower heads to lack of support.

My raised bed at times was hard to work with as the spacing was tight, making cutting the flower heads a challenge.

I will forever more, be a flower grower….

I’m delighted with my first efforts to grow cut flowers, was it easy? Yes! was I lucky to have such success? Probably!

However aside from the obvious benefits I’ve talked about, these flowers in amongst my fruit and vegetables acted as a summer retreat for pollinators in Essex. I have no doubt that planting flowers aided my efforts in a successful crop of edible goodies.

I will forever more be a flower grower as the joy they brought to my outdoor and indoor space this summer far outweighed the minimal effort they took to to grow.

Who knows, next year I might even try something more adventurous!

The Essex Allotment Debut: First Season With a Polytunnel

On September 23rd, I opened my biggest (and only, come to think of it) birthday gift from my parents. It was exactly what every thirty-something man dreams of receiving for his birthday… A 2×6 polytunnel!

For those unfamiliar with the agricultural world, a polytunnel is a little like a transportable conservatory. A dual purpose rainmac-cum-visor for your foods and seeds, if you will.

Despite the child-like excitement I could feel bubbling away inside me, I left my gift in its box until spring. As March came to a close, I was on top of the world when I was finally able to put my polytunnel to use.

As my existing Instagram followers will remember, what happened next was a disaster.

The arrival of gale-force winds meant that my time was initially preoccupied with a ripped cover, and by fixing and replacing the frame; all the while peering in the near distance from my living room window, flinching at even the slightest breeze.

When the wind lost its whistle…

It was near the end of spring before I began to plant, and after the last frost had thawed, the trials and tribulations of ‘wind-gate’ were long forgotten.

Having already faced the wrath of Mother Nature in her cruellest form, I saw no reason to wade in the shallow end with my first attempt at planting.

I had waited long enough, and I was determined to get elbow deep in the soil with my first planting (pun intended). I went for five varieties of tomato, two cucumber plants, an aubergine and one melon.

All had started from seed indoors, and were transported as young plants directly into the ground.

The good, the bad, the ugly!

Let’s start with the good. My tomato and cucumber plants were by far and away my biggest success of the season!

British folks will all know that summer here does not come without its surprises. The polytunnel did its job protecting the tomatoes from the deadly blight that comes with rain and warm weather- of which there was much.

Sungold Tomatoes

They thrived in the humid, and sometimes tropical conditions of summer. They took well to being planted directly into the ground, and quickly established large, firm root systems.

A slightly less successful (but by no means ‘ugly’) venture was the aubergine.

Aubergine is notoriously hard to grow in the UK, but the plant flourished in the extra warmth. Sadly, being the one small plant at the center of a tomato and cucumber plant jungle, it lacked the pollination it required and fell victim to larger plants in the battle to attract pollinators.

The venture was not totally in vain- I managed one perfect little aubergine, and another, not quite as curved and impressive as some you might see, but it tasted just as it should (it looked a little like the Elephant Man).

The ugly. The melon.

What can I say? It developed a powdery mildew within mere weeks of being in the ground. In that moment, I gave up with it.

It was months later, when I finally got to remove the plant from the ground, I found under one prominently diseased leaf, sat a single small, but ripe melon.

As it had gone unnoticed for some time, it had become over-ripe and lacked taste, but its existence itself was a silver lining of sorts, so I decided you can’t expect to have it all.

What’s next?

Having cleared all the plants ready for winter, a thick layer of manure ready to be put down as protection- I am pondering over what I should endeavour to plant next season. With a little experience under my belt, and with no amount of dishevelment or fear surrounding the prospect of more harsh weather, I hope for more consistently positive results.

For my day-to-day ventures around the allotment, visit @the_essex_allotment on Instagram, and let me know what you’ll be trying next season.

Who is The Essex Allotment?



 


Hi, welcome to my blog. I’m Alex aka The Essex Allotment. I’m a 33 year old bloke living in Chelmsford city, Essex. I’ve had an allotment for 18 months and it’s become my passion and I’d love for you to join me on my adventure as I deal with the trials and tribulations of growing my own!

As well as the obvious benefits that come with growing your own fruit and veg I also find the outside space a brilliant place to come to get a bit of peace and mindfulness as I deal with my ongoing journey with mental health.

Introduction to the Essex allotment

In this first blog I’m going to tell you a bit about how I came to have an allotment and what inspired me to start growing my own fruit and veg!

My son Maverick
Maverick

One of the main reasons I got my allotment to start with was my son Maverick and giving him a space to explore and play outside. When I first thought about it he was about 9 months old and he’s now an adventurous and wild 2 year old who loves to help me with weeding and planting!

My own produce
Summer Harvest

I was also enticed by the idea of growing and eating all my own fruit and vegetables, I’m a keen cook and I love creating dishes with the food I’ve grown, it’s such a satisfying feeling! The taste of fresh food just can’t be beaten and knowing it’s come from farm to fork in as little as 10 minutes just doesn’t get any better!

Mental health

I find the allotment and being out in the outside air so good for my mental health, I’ll go into my journey with mental health in more detail in a later blog post but just to touch on it; I’ve been diagnosed with mental health issues for the best part of 2 years but was probably struggling for a year or so before. Knowing I have somewhere I can go for wander at the end of a stressful day is something that really helps me.

I think that will do for my first post but I’d love it if you’d follow and keep up with me on my allotment adventures! I’ll talk all about what I’ve achieved in my 18 months as a plot holder in my upcoming posts as well as keeping you up to date with where I’m at now! Follow me on Instagram to see my daily posts and let me know if there’s anything in particular you’d like me to blog about!